Court grants Masarira stay of sentence

HARARE - A Harare court has granted a stay of community sentence for pro-democracy campaigner Linda Masarira while considering whether the High Court will hear her appeal after her conviction and sentence for participating in an anti-government protest last year.

In a May 5 court ruling, Mbare magistrate Stanford Mambanje said Masarira can be free on her own recognisance for now in connection with the case.

Mambanje had on March 3 convicted Masarira on charges of fanning public violence during the July 6, 2016 “stay away” protest movement led by church minister Evan Mawarire and sentenced her to complete 385 hours of community service. The court cited “overwhelming evidence” of her guilt.

Masarira’s defence maintains she was wrongfully convicted and hopes the Court of Appeals will hear her case.

Masarira’s lawyers Obey Shava and Kudzayi Kadzere of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights filed an application at the High Court allowing her to appeal against both conviction and sentence.

Justice Edith Mushore on April 11 paved the way for the pro-democracy campaigner to commence proceedings challenging magistrate Mambanje’s ruling.

Mambanje then granted Masarira’s application for a stay of community service pending the hearing of her appeal against both conviction and sentence by the High Court.

In their application, Masarira’s lawyers argued that the human rights activist’s appeal filed at the High Court carries prospects of success.

They argued if she continues performing community service now and the appeal succeeds, she would have suffered an irreparable harm because she would have already complied with the order and the State cannot undo what she would have already done.

The lawyers also argued that the State won’t suffer any prejudice because if the appeal is dismissed by the High Court, Masarira can still proceed to perform the community service.

Masarira was initially sentenced to 18 months imprisonment before seven months were suspended on condition of good behaviour.

The remaining 11 months were suspended on condition that she performs community service at Marlborough Clinic.

She was convicted for shutting down most businesses, government offices, schools and hospitals in the biggest act of public defiance against 93-year-old Mugabe in a decade.

The protest annoyed Mugabe amid escalating economic and political crises in the country, with the nonagenarian alleging the protests were sponsored by foreign States.

Masarira has been on trial since last year after she was arrested on July 6.

She was convicted for contravening Section 38 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 for allegedly obstructing or endangering free movements of persons or vehicles during the #ShutdownZim2016 anti-government protests.

In convicting Masarira, Mambanje had labelled the pro-democracy campaigner “a notorious activist” and “a social media agitator”.

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